Two lions wait for food during a media call at Taronga zoo in Sydney on August 14, 2008.
Two lions wait for food during a media call at Taronga zoo in Sydney on August 14, 2008. Sydney's Taronga Zoo took the Major Tourist Attraction award at the Australian Tourism awards, held in Perth last week.

While the full moon has for long been a case of bloody tales and stories, forget about vampires or zombie attacks as a study recently published shows that predators, such as lions and maybe even wolves, are at their most dangerous when the moon starts to fade.

The finding, from a study of about 1,000 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers between 1988 and 2009, could explain the full moon's frequent appearance in folklore as a harbinger of evil or disaster, The Times reported.

It was led by Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and looked at the relationship between lunar cycles, lion attacks and lion feeding behaviour. Researchers used records of more than 1,000 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers that occurred between 1988 and 2009.

Of these, in more than two thirds of the cases, the victims were killed and eaten and most occurred after dark. Researchers were able to pinpoint a precise time of day for 474 attacks, and found that attacks clustered between 6 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.

They also found that attack rates were two to four times higher in the 10 days after a full moon. But periods of waxing lunar light were not similarly bloody. That's because lions hunt best in darkness, the researchers report, and are hungry after nights of blazing, brilliant moonlight.

The study, published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, also involved checking measurements of the belly size of lions and the study also revealed that lion attacks increased during the rainy season, when the moon was more likely to be obscured by clouds.

"The full moon is not dangerous in itself," the researchers conclude in the July 20 issue of PLoS ONE, "but is instead a portent of the darkness to come."